Lighting the model in portraits

This post is for my portrait student in our discussion about lighting the model for portraits. I quickly pasted together a few examples to explain myself better.

The classic 3/4 view in portrait lighting. Light on both sides of the face with a strong ‘Van Dyck Z’. Painter stands between the window and the model:

Portrait lighting with light on the far side of the face, half-tone or shadow on the nose:

The portrait model lit from both sides, much more difficult to pull off in my opinion (the Serov on the left has light bouncing from everywhere in the room):

The portrait model with half the face in full shadow, seems to very popular with self portraits:

I couldn’t find good historic examples of the high light-source, raccoon effect which is popular today in portrait painting. There are more lighting possibilities than just these four, but I figure this is a good start.

Someone sent me this link to a tutorial on lighting, one of the better ones I’ve seen.


  1. On a model facing left (such as the Ingres and Van Dyck at the top), its the ‘Z’ shaped shadow which runs from the left eyebrow, down the length of the nose, and under the nose. On a right-facing model it is more of an ‘S’ shape, like on the Velazquez.

  2. I believe it was Gammell who said that ‘the nose is the handle of the face.’ Get the angles and lengths of the ‘van Dyck Z’ correct and you’ve gone a long way to establishing the orientation of the head.

  3. Hello Marc. I’ve only recently found your blog and web site and am thoroughly enjoying both. Your work is magnificent.
    I apologize for this post as it is off topic. But I have been tagged on my own blog. I just learned what that means and am going to ‘play’ the game. One of the obligations if you play is to tag 7 other bloggers that might be of interest to others. My requirements are that the people I tag must be good painters and must teach. You are obviously good at both and I’d like to have others find out about your work and bog/website.
    It’s your choice to participate of course. If you don’t, I’m glad that this has introduced me to your work and you to those who pop in here now following the link to you on my blog site.
    Thanks, I’ll be looking in frequently.
    PS…Hi Darren, from Marc in Minnesota (River School). Nice to see that you’re out there.

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